Being Positive When You're Wired to be Negative
Six things that happened today:
- I awoke to my husband making my favourite breakfast (french toast, in case you were wondering).
- I actually had time to eat said breakfast at the kitchen table, rather than in the car.
- My commute was quicker than usual which meant I had time to get coffee before work.
- Two coworkers complimented me.
- I received a thoughtful message from a friend.
- A teen student scorned at my suggestion to develop her work and strode out of the classroom in a huff.
Of all these events, it was the last that stuck with me for the whole day.
Ridiculous, I know.
Not just that I let a teenager's emotions have such a hold on me, but that there were so many other good things that happened that didn't have the same hold on me- at least five I could count.
Despite the five great things that happened, the one negative stood rigid in the corner of my mind, like a banner telling me I wasn't good enough. And I'm sure we've all felt the same way. How many times have you received feedback and only remembered the one negative point despite positives that were mentioned too?
The crazy thing is this isn't so crazy after all.
It's Called the Negativity Bias
This means that your brain gives priority to noticing the negative, over the positive. Noticing the negative in yourself, in the people around you, in the past, present and future.
So, you make three good purchases and one rip off - you'll be kicking yourself for the next few days, thinking on the money wasted on the rip off. Your partner washes the dishes and wipes the counter but leaves their socks on the floor - no guess which task you'll be bringing up. Two compliments and one insult - the insult will burn in your mind for the rest of eternity.
Your negativity bias is why, whenever you think of that chance you want to take, your mind instantly comes up with a million reasons why you should not.
But to be fair, it's not entirely your fault. Your brain notices the negatives five times more than it notices the positives. That means it takes five compliments to neutralise one insult. Five happy moments to balance out one sad.
It's the way we were made. It's a survival instinct, because for a long time, taking risks meant compromising your safety.
Think about it. You're camping in the wilderness. You hear a rustle. You can a.) Be up for an adventure and follow the sound to come face to face with danger. Or b.) Assume the worst and stay inside and, most importantly, safe.
You can see how, from a survival point of view, focusing on the negative can have it's benefits. But now, with everything around you constantly telling you you're not enough, with the media consistently feeding us the worst of what's happening, your negativity biases doesn't quite have the same value.
Lucky for us, our minds are malleable. Our brain's neuroplasticity means we don't have to be stuck with instincts from the cavemen days. You can rewire your brain to notice what is good and right with your life, giving you more energy and motivation to go after success.
So how do we start noticing the positive and ultimately become a happier person?
Talk to yourself.
Weird, I know. But, in the midst of the never-ending to-do lists and multitude of conversations, how often do you check in with yourself? Take a moment everyday, to be alone with yourself. The first step to changing your way of thinking, is becoming aware of it.
Put aside the phone, the laptop, turn off the radio, and listen to your internal dialogue. Tell yourself what you're grateful for. Tell yourself what small goals you will achieve today. Outline your plan of action out loud. Beautify the most important relationship you have - the one with yourself.
Catch someone being great.
Just as it's too easy to point out the things we don't like in ourselves, it's all too simple to find faults in others. Notice when the people around you do something well, however small it is. Write a note, leave a chocolate, say thank you. Noticing when people do things right, rather than focusing what they do wrong, allows your brain to make that shift from looking out for negatives to forming a habit of catching the positives.
Doing something to show your appreciation to someone, whether it's mentioning it in conversation or shooting them an appreciative email, is bound to not only make their day that much sweeter, but yours too. You receive what you put out.
Cultivate a gratitude habit.
Not long ago, I started a gratitude diary. In it, I was supposed to write twice a day, a list of things I was grateful for. Spoiler alert: I didn't stick to it. But I did learn the power of gratitude in attracting more good into my life.
Start a habit, something small and easy so you have no doubt you can stick to it. Whilst the gratitude diary did not quite work in my case, I did develop something that did feel right for me. I gave myself just one rule. Every time something happened that made me feel proud, elated or any kind of positive emotion, I would take a minute to write. While still basking in the warm glow of happiness, I would write down exactly what happened and how I felt about it. Not only did this help to savour the good, it also served as a useful reminder of my potential on the days I felt down.
Taking a moment to truly relish in the good, shifts the tendency for your mind to let the good times slip by and magnify the bad.
Find something that works for you, whether it's telling yourself positive affirmations on the drive to work or writing gratitude points before you sleep, and start awakening to the beauty all around you.